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Mr. Commish: An Interview With Former Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Recently, I sat down with my father, Joe Bertagna, to discuss his decades-long career in ice hockey, from his work as Hockey East League Commissioner to his various coaching stints. Interested in the sport? Read on!

1. You worked at Hockey East for 23 years. While I’m sure there are many fond memories from that era, what are two or three positive moments from your tenure that have stuck with you? 

Joe: I tend to think of some of the special events I had a hand in creating for both men and women. There were the outdoor games at Fenway Park that we did four times (2010, 2012, 2014, and 2017). And perhaps best of all were the games that were played in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We started the Friendship Four tournament in 2015 and a Friendship Series for women beginning in 2019. In all, I have made 13 trips to Belfast and Dublin and am currently working on a book on these events.

2. Overseeing a league that big must have been daunting at times. What was the single most challenging aspect of the position? 

J: The biggest challenge came from dealing with people who had a rooting interest in who won or lost. They often were so wrapped up in their pursuit of self-interest that they lost track of the common good. I think I reached a point where I had little tolerance for uncontrolled partisanship.

3. You coached the first-ever Harvard Women’s Ice Hockey team in 1977. Since then, we have witnessed incredible advancements in women’s ice hockey and women’s athletics as a whole. What are some of your top women-in-sports moments since you coached at Harvard?

J: I was at the National Hockey League All-Star Weekend in San Jose in 2019 and watched former Northeastern star Kendall Coyne beat a number of NHL men in the fastest skater competition. That was a special moment. But, I guess, more than that, it is just seeing how far the women’s game has come since the days I was coaching Harvard Women back in the late 1970s. And of course, watching my daughter play goal in high school, and even today, remains special for me as an old goalie.

4. Since leaving Hockey East in 2020, you have enjoyed more free time while still balancing a number of part-time jobs. What has been the most fulfilling part of these past few years? Whether in your work life or in your personal life.

J: My father always would say, “Don’t get old, Joe. Don’t get old.” I never understood that but as I go through my 72nd year, I understand. A little. Aches and pains. Not being able to do things like you used to. But I have stayed busy by design. I still juggle jobs and still get on the ice to coach goalies, particularly at the prep school level. And I am doing more writing now. I have been able to create an attractive work life for where I am in life. Writing my memoir, “Late in the Third,” has been a recent work highlight.

5. This summer is a big one for you with the 50th and final run of Bertagna Goaltending Camp. How are you feeling? And, how much has changed in goaltending since you started in 1973?

J: Oh my, where do I start? Well, the two biggest changes have been the improvement of protective equipment and the availability of solid coaching. That wasn’t always the case. The position attracts better athletes than in my time and the quality of goaltending has never been better. It is almost too good. I’d like to see the upper body equipment shrunk, somehow, opening up more net. Goalies are so big and fill the net so much that they can play deep ice the net. If the equipment was smaller, they would have to come out more which would change the game, adding offense.

Thanks for your contributions, Joe!

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Grace Bertagna

U Mass Amherst '23

Grace Bertagna is a sophomore at UMass Amherst studying Spanish and Sociology. She enjoys painting, practicing yoga, cooking, and playing ice hockey.